Participants in the Death Ride for Life bicycle rally leave Silverton on Saturday morning, June 8. The ride included nearly 300 participants this year in a loop from Silverton to Telluride, to Durango and back.
By Mark Esper
It started out in June of 2009 with just eight bicyclists and a support staff of three, departing from Silverton and riding the 232-mile San Juan Skyway loop as a fundraiser for Children’s Hospital Colorado and the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the ALS Association.
Aurora bicyclist Barry Sopinsky, founder and director of the Death Ride Tour for Life, said that first ride — from Silverton to Telluride, then on to Durango and back to Silverton — raised about $2,000 for the charities.
Last weekend nearly 300 bicyclists took on the Death Ride, leaving Silverton at 8 a.m. on Saturday, June 8, and arriving back in town Monday afternoon, exhausted but inspired.
The bicyclists raised more than $60,000 for charity, along with filling hotel rooms in Silverton for the weekend.
Sopinsky is nothing less than stunned by the spectacular growth of the Death Ride for Life and the amazing adventures he has experienced along the way.
“There are just so many great stories,” Sopinsky said after finishing this year’s ride.
Sopinsky said he’s ridden the Triple Bypass ride over three mountain passes from Evergreen to Avon and noted the motto for that ride is “For Those Who Dare.”
With that in mind, he chose for his Death Ride for Life the motto “For Those Who Care.”
“This is kind of my side gig,” Sopinsky said. “I work on it all year in my spare time — early mornings, late nights, weekends and everything.”
The inspiration for all the hard work? Tzedekah: The Hebrew word for to give back, to be righteous, to do the right thing.
“I’m really not very religious, but this thing is getting me more and more spiritually in touch,” Sopinsky said. “Every charitable act is a stepping stone to heaven.”
By 2010, the second year of the Death Ride for Life, it was 25 bicyclists heading out of Silverton along with a support team of five.
“In 2011 I thought I had better get some help here, so we hired a support team with vans and the whole deal,” Sopinsky said. “We had 75 riders.”
Last year nearly 120 riders pedaled out of town and this year, the event again ballooned in size.
Sopinsky said the Death Ride is one of the toughest cycling events in the world.
“There are some real epic rides, but this is one of the top,” Sopinsky said.
He noted the brutal 16,500 feet of climbing on the course.
The Death Ride may sound a bit macabre, but Sopinsky said it’s really all about life.
He pointed to an incident at the end of this year’s race that makes him think a greater power may be at work.
After finishing the ride on Monday, Lou Schwartz, 49, of Thornton was driving over Red Mountain Pass and had to stop for the chip-sealing crew.
While waiting, he apparently fell asleep and his car plunged into the canyon. (See related story, Page 1.)
“So he’s down there and his car is upside down. But he’s alive. He gets out of his car and he’s in the river up to his knees. He walks back up the cliff. His car is totaled but his bike on the back of it had only a couple of scratches.
“I told him you and the bike are OK. Everything else is dispensable,” Sopinsky said.
“The whole theme of this ride is to be an angel of life. The more money you raise the more you become the angel of life.”
Sopinsky said he is not sure how much Schwartz raised on his ride before crashing his car into the canyon.
“But he raised enough to have the angel of life working overtime here,” Sopinsky said.
Sopinsky said Silverton has been a great base for the ever-growing bike race.
“Rodger and Tanya (Wrublik) and Shasta and George (Foster) have been so spectacular from the beginning,” Sopinsky said. “I just want to keep it coming to Silverton.”
Sopinsky said he is not sure how much more the bike race can grow.
“The Town of Silverton is kind of maxxed out,” Sopinsky said. “You guys are terrific and you’re all a part of it.”
Sopinsky said he has had his own share of magical moments on the Death Ride for Life.
“It’s been just too incredible,” Sopinsky said, “which is what makes it have a lot of heart, and makes it a lot more than just a bike ride.”